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Arizona's governor signs bill to repeal 1864 abortion law 

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signs the repeal of Civil War-era near-total abortion ban, May 2, 2024, at the Capitol in Phoenix.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs signs the repeal of Civil War-era near-total abortion ban, May 2, 2024, at the Capitol in Phoenix.

Democratic Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs has relegated a Civil War-era ban on most abortions to the past by signing a bill Thursday to repeal it.

Hobbs said the move was just the beginning of a fight to protect reproductive health care in Arizona. The repeal of the 1864 law that the state Supreme Court recently reinstated won't take effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, which typically happens in June or July.

Abortion rights advocates say they're hopeful a court will step in to prevent what could be a confusing landscape of access for girls and women across Arizona as laws are introduced and then reversed.

The effort to repeal the long-dormant law, which bans all abortions except those done to save a patient's life, won final legislative approval Wednesday in a 16-14 vote of the Senate, as two GOP lawmakers joined with Democrats.

Hobbs denounced "a ban that was passed by 27 men before Arizona was even a state, at a time when America was at war over the right to own slaves, a time before women could even vote."

"This ban needs to be repealed, I said it in 2022 when Roe was overturned, and I said it again and again as governor," Hobbs said during the bill signing.

In early April, Arizona's Supreme Court voted to restore the 1864 law that provides no exceptions for rape or incest and allows abortions only if the mother's life is in jeopardy. The majority opinion suggested doctors could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to five years in prison if convicted.

Democrats, who are the minority in the Legislature, struck back with the help of a handful of Republicans in the House and Senate to advance a repeal in a matter of weeks to Hobbs' desk.

A crowd of lawmakers — mostly women — joined in the signing ceremony with celebratory airs, including taking selfies and exchanging congratulations among Democrats.

The scene stood in sharp contrast to Wednesday's vote in the Senate that extended for hours as Republicans described their motivations in personal, emotional and even biblical terms — including graphic descriptions of abortion procedures and amplified audio recordings of a fetal heartbeat.

Meanwhile, across the country, an abortion rights initiative in South Dakota submitted far more signatures than required to make the ballot this fall. In Florida, a ban took effect against most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many people even know they are pregnant.

In Arizona, once the repeal takes effect in the fall, a 2002 statute banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy will become the state's prevailing abortion law.

Whether the 1864 law will be enforced in the coming months depends on who is asked. The anti-abortion-rights group defending the ban, Alliance Defending Freedom, maintains county prosecutors can begin enforcing it once the Supreme Court's decision becomes final, which hasn't yet occurred.

Planned Parenthood Arizona filed a motion Wednesday asking the court to prevent a pause in abortion services until the repeal takes effect. Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes has joined in that action.

The Supreme Court set deadlines next week for briefings on the motion.